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Perks and Pitfalls: Running a Home-Based Business

 

For many new small business owners, running a business from home is a no-brainer (and often a financial necessity!). With a commute measured in feet rather than miles, you can be ready to work anytime. Without the worry of renting office space, your overhead will be far less than that of traditional business owners. Plus, you’ll get to join the pantheon of other businesses that began in a humble home, such as Apple, Mary Kay, Hershey’s, and Ford.

It’s no wonder more than half of all small businesses in the U.S. are home-based. However, working from home brings its share of challenges. Here are several home office pitfalls that accompany the perks:

  • Prospects might not take you seriously – Some potential clients might view you as less professional or possibly not serious about your business because you don’t have a “real” office.

Suggestion: Maintain the same work ethic and hours that you would if you had an office elsewhere. Treat your in-home business like a bona fide business—because it is!

  • Interruptions from family and friends who don’t quite get it – Especially in the start-up phase, you’ll likely find some of your relatives and friends won’t understand the concept of “working” from home. They’ll think you’re free to meet for coffee or entertain them when they drop by unannounced.

Suggestion: Set expectations from the start. Make sure your friends and family know when you will and won’t be available for socializing.

  • Lack of socialization – Working independently without face-to-face interaction with colleagues can leave you feeling alone and isolated.

Suggestion: Periodically take your work to another location such as a coffee shop or co-working space. When appropriate, consider scheduling video conference calls or in-person meetings with clients and project partners rather than only communicating via phone or email.

  • Endless distractions – Your personal “to do” list at home can be difficult to ignore when tasks are staring you in the face. Tending to them when you should be focused on your business is a sure-fire way to thwart your productivity.

Suggestion: Have a dedicated space for your home office where you can physically shut the door and leave behind your laundry piles and dirty dishes. Schedule time on evenings and weekends (or whenever your out-of-office hours are) for your personal tasks so you’re not tempted to tackle them when you should be working on your business.

  • Inability to get away from your work – On the flip side, you may never feel able to take a break from your business when you work from home. There’s always more to do!

Suggestion: Establish a cut-off time each day for when you will no longer check work emails, business social media accounts, and take calls from clients. Although you may need to bend your rules now and then, you’ll be more likely to give yourself a mental break and your family members the time they deserve if you set  boundaries.

To find out more about the realities of starting and growing a small business, reach out to SCORE Maine to get expert guidance from one of our mentors.

Further Reading and Resources: Starting a Business in Your Home: Weighing the Pros and Cons

The Perks Of Periscope For Marketing Your Small Business

Periscope, the live video streaming app for iOS and Android,  has been making waves on the social media scene since it was purchased by Twitter in March 2015. Businesses and individuals ranging from Oprah to Spotify to Red Bull to Bernie Sanders use the app to reach millions viewers with live broadcasts of events, products and services. As Periscope’s tagline states, it allows its users to “explore the world through someone else’s eyes.”

 

How Does Periscope Work?

With the Periscope mobile app, you can make live broadcasts of whatever you’re doing, whenever you’re doing it. Live broadcasts can be shared through Twitter, shared with your Periscope followers or shared with their followers much like how a friend shares a post on Facebook. You can also invite select followers to a private broadcast.

Viewers can “heart” and comment on your broadcasts in real-time and you can respond to those comments immediately, creating an interactive experience.

If users miss a live broadcast, they can watch a replay of it for up to 24 hours after it has ended. Although broadcasts are removed after 24 hours, you can save them to your mobile device and post them online as often as you desire.

 

Using Periscope to Boost Business

You may be thinking, “Sounds great, but how could Periscope help my business?”

Here are a few ideas for making the most of Periscope’s marketing potential:

  • Behind the scenes tour—to give viewers a glimpse of where the magic happens and who is making it happen at your business.
  • Announcements—to launch a new product, introduce a new hire, announce new certifications or awards, etc.
  • Product demos—to introduce new products or show how your products are made.
  • Interviews with team members—to introduce new hires or showcase the expertise and skills of employees.
  • Q&A sessions—to tackle FAQs about your company and its products and services or industry issues.
  • Events—capture the action at an open house, customer appreciation day, award presentation, etc.
  • How-to sessions—to give viewers step-by-step instructions to accomplish or use something.
  • Focus groups—to capture honest input and feedback about products and services (either those that you’re considering or that you already offer).

While Periscope is still in its infancy, the key to making it work for your business is no different than for any other online social media platform:

  • Be active.
  • Be engaged.
  • Be consistent.

 

To learn more about Periscope and how to use it, check out these resources:

Branding Your Business

No matter how small or large your business, you need branding.

Branding, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, is “the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”

For any solopreneur or small business owner, creating a memorable brand stands as a cornerstone for success. Behind the exceptional services and products you offer, you need a strong brand presence in your market to attract new customers and make you top of mind.

Branding involves instilling in prospects and customers a sense of what your company is all about. Branding, through your logo, business name, taglines, signage, website, print collateral, etc., sets expectations and drives people to feel a certain way when they see and recognize your company.

What Should a Small Business Consider When Establishing A Brand?

According to SCORE Portland Maine mentor and digital marketing specialist Lauren Guite, small business owners find few things more difficult than distilling their businesses into imagery, colors, and a few words. But that exercise is important for creating awareness and building a customer following.

“My advice to folks starting this process is to start big, putting everything down on paper,” shares Guite. “Have many brainstorming sessions with your trusted network of family and friends—with the people who get you and your business. Explore how you feel about your business and how you want your customers to feel—emotion is the strongest tie to your customers.”

Do’s and Don’ts of Branding for Small Businesses

If you’re at the start of your branding process, Guite suggests that you:

  • Do research to understand how certain colors and fonts resonate with people.
  • Do test your ideas before making a final decision! What your customer base thinks matters most.
  • Don’t over-explain. Less is more! Keep branding simple to make it memorable.

Small Business Branding Help

Not all small business owners feel comfortable with or capable of making the right branding decisions. At the over 320 chapters of SCORE across the U.S., you’ll find mentors (like Guite at our SCORE Portland Maine Chapter) who have marketing and branding expertise. SCORE mentoring is free of charge, and many chapters also offer low-cost workshops and seminars that cover the topic of branding. You can also find webinars and articles relevant to small business branding via the SCORE national website.

If you would like some marketing and branding guidance for your small business, contact us!

 

More about SCORE Maine Mentor Lauren Guite

Lauren Guite is a digital marketing specialist for Environmental Defense Fund where she considers social sharing strategies and audience needs while implementing a content marketing strategy. Wanting to give back to her home state, she started volunteering for SCORE in November of 2013. After many years in Washington, D.C., she’s glad to be home and helping local businesses with their marketing challenges.

 

Build Your Brand through Face-to-Face and Online Networking

Networking – face-to-face and online – is essential for not only building awareness of and trust in your brand, but also in you as a small business owner. According to a survey referenced on the Business Networking by Dr. Ivan Misner blog, professionals who said they spend a little over six hours a week networking gained nearly 47 percent of their business via networking activities and referrals. Wow!

The not-so-secret benefits of what networking can do for you:

• Raise awareness of your business and what you do.

• Build credibility.

• Let people get to know the face behind your brand. (Remember, people do business with people.)

• Extend your reach and can lead to referrals. (Expand the possibility of you knowing someone who knows someone who can use your services.)

Combining face-to-face and online networking optimizes business development efforts.
Your involvement in networking in person and your online networking support and reinforce each other. When your contacts cross over from one realm to the other, you build multidimensional relationships. That gives you more options for interacting – and it makes it easier to stay top of mind with prospective clients and existing customers.

Networking opportunities to consider as a small business owner:

Face-to-face networking groups
Availability of networking groups can vary depending on where you live and your specific industry. Here are a few types of networking groups to consider:

• Chambers of commerce
• Industry and trade associations
• Small local networking groups
• Community service organizations (like Rotary clubs, Lions Club, etc.)

Online networking opportunities

As you know, there’s no shortage of social media networks available to businesses. Which networks will give you the most return on your investments of time and effort depends on a number of factors, including your type of business. Most likely, you’re already using one or more of these platforms:

• LinkedIn (the one network we encourage every professional to consider)

• Facebook

• Twitter

• Pinterest

• Google Plus

• Instagram

• SnapChat

• YouTube

• Vine

• Foursquare

When networking inperson or online, you’ll want to get the most from the time and energy you spend. Here are a few tips for making the most of your networking efforts:

Think of networking as a process, not as an event.
Networking is about building relationships. You can’t do that by attending one or two meetings or mixers. Only through consistency of involvement will you reap the rewards that networking offers. This is true of both face-to-face and online networking.

Cross-connect when possible.
Whenever possible, connect with face-to-face networking connections via social media. Vice versa, if you have an opportunity to have coffee with a social media contact, take it! Cross-connecting will give you more opportunities to stay top of mind with contacts.

Choose platforms and organizations carefully.
Research which will provide the most opportunities for you to interact with your target market. Also, consider how much time you have available for networking and when you’re available to network. Not all online social networks demand the same amount of time and attention. Some networking groups require substantial time commitment and attendance at meetings. Before joining, find out if they hold their functions primarily during the work day or in the evenings. Which work best with your schedule?

Also, find out how much of a financial investment you’ll need to make. Some networking organizations require membership fees which then enable you to attend certain events “for free” as a member, but you might also have to pay for some events and activities. Make sure a group is within your budget so you can actively participate.

Be genuine – and genuinely interested.
People can detect a fake. Be real; be you when networking. Also, make your interactions about them not you in the beginning. Make it a point to ask questions and show an interest in other people before you jump in to share about yourself. It builds goodwill and makes a great first impression.

Follow up.
After meeting face to face, connect on social media (particularly LinkedIn) or send a friendly email. By doing so, you can build on that one-time meeting and open the door to communicating on an ongoing basis.

While successful networking comes easier to some business owners than others, it’s rare – if not impossible – to build a brand without it as part of a business’s strategy. If you’re not sure which networking groups, platforms, and activities might work best for your business, reach out to a SCORE mentor for guidance. We’re here to help!

Mobile Apps: Small Business Owners, Don’t Leave the Office Without Them!

Managing time – and finding enough of it – stands as one of the biggest challenges small business owners face. With the demands of running all aspects of your business, it takes more than just time to accomplish all that you need to do; it also takes tools. Mobile apps can be a life saver for on-the-go entrepreneurs. There’s a plethora of free apps available for both Android and iOS mobile devices to help you take care of business no matter where you are. Best of all, you can turn what might otherwise be wasted time (waiting for a client or standing in line at the local deli) into productive time by having some key apps on hand.

Consider these mobile apps for your business:

Social Media Management Apps
No matter which social networks use in your marketing efforts, there are mobile apps for them. Facebook Pages Manager, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram…all have free apps you can download to your smartphone or tablet. Capabilities vary from app to app, but they all give you the ability to post updates to your social accounts and monitor and interact with the activity of others in your newsfeed.

You might also want to check out Hootsuite and Buffer. Both are social media management tools that enable you to not only post to social networks in real time, but to also schedule future posts.

Blogging Apps
Both WordPress and Blogger enable you to create new blog posts, edit existing posts, upload images to your blog, manage comments, and publish posts directly from your mobile device. From crafting new posts to putting the finish touches on drafts, you can tend to your blog from anywhere.

Note-taking Apps
For capturing ideas and making to do lists, check out Evernote or Microsoft OneNote. Both enable you to create text notes, audio notes, and check lists that you can tag and organize into notebooks for easy reference and retrieval. From within the apps, you can take photos of documents, receipts, post-it notes, etc. to store them electronically and eliminate the clutter of paper in your office.

The beauty of all these apps is that they sync across all the devices you access them from so you can effortlessly and conveniently stay on top of things no matter where you are. It’s a very good reason not to leave the office without them!

What mobile apps have helped you manage your business on the go?